Lost, dead, underused, untranslatable, and under-appreciated words: Part 1, M.

Greenland Drawing by Zaria FormanI don’t often start at the beginning, primarily because I rarely know where to find the beginning. As a writer, this is probably a bad habit, but I don’t care too much. Usually, it works out for the best—I find that starting at the beginning is the swiftest route to reader-boredom. I admit sometimes have trouble finding the end or figuring out how to wrap up an article, though I never have much trouble finding the punchline. I should probably just not write serious things and focus on telling jokes, but I am getting ahead of (behind? I’m not sure?) myself.

Anyway, the point is this: I am starting a new series of my blog of words that are lost, dead, underused, untranslatable, or under-appreciated. Basically, it’s going to be a bunch of cool words that I like and think others might enjoy.

I’m starting near the middle, because that’s what feels right (and because alphabetical order is great for glossaries, but not all that crucial for rambling bloggers). So today, I found three words that begin with M. Here ya go:

Montivagant (Noun, English)
This English word was used most often during the 17th Century and although it is considered a “dead” word, it’s not entirely forgotten. It describes a person who wanders over mountains and hills, a particularly ambitious vagabond. It’s someone who gains and loses altitude as they put one foot in front of the other, up and down, up and down. It’s a rambling man, a roadie without a band. In short, it’s how I want to live my life.

Mångata (Noun, Swedish)
This is a Swedish word that has no exact equivalent in English. It describes the “road-like reflection of the moon on water.” It’s that stairway to heaven that happens when you’re lakeside on a summer night and the moon rises big and slow and lazy.

Merrythought (Noun, English)
This word for the wishbone of a bird is extremely dated and sounds it (“Would you like to pull my merrythought?” asked no one ever). The first known appearance of “Merrythought” was in 1607. I’m squirreling this information away for use at Thanksgiving. When the dinner table talk inevitably and uncomfortably turns to politics, I plan to bust this one out to distract the quibblers.

Image: “Greenland” by Brooklyn-based artist Zaria Forman from her series “Chasing the Light,” which focuses on the interplay between light and water. I’ve blogged about her before, and I’m a huge fan of her work. See more here. 

Art of the far north: Zaria Forman’s Greenland farewell.

Screen Shot 2014-03-16 at 6.15.39 PMIt’s been a long, difficult winter. Frigid and unrelenting. Bitter cold in a way that feels almost violating, seeping under my clothes and into my skin, settling in my bones and turning those elegant calcified shapes into fragile pieces of ice, ready to shatter at a moments notice.

To be clear, I’m not a fan of winter.

But I am very much in love with Zaria Forman’s series of drawings, “Greenland: Chasing the Ice.” In August 2012, she lead an arctic expedition for the purposes of capturing the icy landscape in art. Inspired by her mother’s desire to head north, Zaria struck out on history’s second trip with this goal (the first was in 1869, led by the American painter William Bradford). Tragically, though Zaria’s mother was instrumental in planning the expedition, she didn’t live to see it through. “Documenting climate change, the work addresses the concept of saying goodbye on scales both global and personal,” Zaria writes. “In Greenland, I scattered my mother’s ashes amidst the melting ice.”

Whoa, right? It’s big, heavy, sad, lovely work. And the drawings, as you might have noticed, are stunning. Zaria also traveled to Svalbard (a peninsula at the northern tip of Sweden) and produced many drawings based on that experience. Her work is amazing. Delicate, detailed, but so, so cold. It makes me shiver to look at it.

Check it out here.